Typo SF

Just Our Type: Sibylle Hagmann at TYPO SF

Sibylle Hagmann started her career in Switzerland at the Basel School of Design. She later completed her MFA at the California Institute of the Arts.

Her award-winning typeface families include Cholla and Odile, with the latter (published in 2006) earning the Swiss Federal Design Award. Hagmann’s work has been featured in numerous publications and recognized by the Type Directors Club of New York and Japan, among others. She launched her type foundry, Kontour.com, in 2012.

On Thursday, April 10th, Hagmann shares her inspirations with the participants of TYPO San Francisco. We wanted to know more about how this talented type designer gets inspiration, so we asked her to share her thoughts. Read what she had to say:

How did a Swiss designer end up in Texas, and how has the Lone Star State shaped your work?

I ended up in Texas by way of California where I went to graduate school, and following graduation I worked as a designer in LA for a couple of years. My move to Texas was a consequence of an academic offer. I’ve called Houston, the fourth biggest city in the US, home for the past 14 years and enjoy its international atmosphere. Houston isn’t directly influencing my work, nor is it the driving force, especially since during the last couple of years I became less client-dependent. It is the US as a surrounding framework that affects the work and outcome to some degree.

i feel lucky

elido sibylle hagmann

Your talk at TYPO San Francisco is about influences on creativity. What are some of your influences?

Creative influences are shaped, among others, by experiencing a variety of cultures. I feel lucky to have experienced two very different educational philosophies (Basel School of Design and CalArts) rooted in local design traditions on either continent. Both still reverberate and shape my creative output.

I also have great respect for work by, for example, modern choreographer Pina Bausch, Jean-Luc Godard’s films, or Matthew Carters typeface designs. All have contributed to advancing a form of expression.

odile sibylle hagmann

How do these influences transform into your fonts and drawings?

At times a unique form detail or existing concept may inspire the design of a typeface. For example, the Odile (right) typeface family was inspired by an unpublished font by William Addison Dwiggins, an American book and type designer from the 20th century. Charter, a typeface he designed during the late 1940s, is a non-slanting italic with idiosyncratic shapes that motivated me to design an entire type family around the idea of an upright italic.

Currently I’m working on a new font family that draws some inspiration from a typeface designed by Herbert Thannhaeuser, during the mid to late 1950s in the former Eastern Germany. Both aforementioned typeface references go back to unique sociopolitical environments that defined a certain demand for typefaces.

pursuing a passion

axia sibylle hagmann

What drives you to create? Aren’t there enough fonts and typefaces out there?

I enjoy researching ideas for new typefaces and contemplating concepts and potential text applications. Fonts are being designed with an end user in mind. However, I find it captivating that once a font has been released into the public realm, there is no control over how the type is used.

As a type designer I have to work within a well-defined set of restrictions. Letterforms are agreed upon shapes and designing type is to reinterpret a preexisting system of form, a fact that I find a fascinating challenge. Designers never tire to create novel chairs, and artists continue to paint canvases. Among more obvious creative outputs, typefaces are cultural assets. When designing typefaces I’m pursuing a passion for capturing form with a purpose.